(CBS Detroit) — Super Bowl LV, between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, features one of the great quarterback matchups of all time. Patrick Mahomes, the defending Super Bowl MVP, is coming off another spectacular season, in which he led his Chiefs to a 14-2 record and once again sat near the top in many stat categories. Tom Brady, at age 43, took over at QB for the Buccaneers, where he eventually settled into yet another productive season. The Bucs finished 11-5, and Brady joined Mahomes among the quarterback stat leaders.
Brady is in a class of his own, when it comes to Super Bowl wins. He led the New England Patriots to six titles in his two decades there and has a chance to lead the Bucs to another. It would be their first since 2003. Brady’s six rings are at least two more than any other quarterback (Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana each have four). Mahomes, in his fourth season, has one title to his name and could be closing in on another.
A win on Sunday would still leave Mahomes well short of Brady’s total, which is seen as borderline unattainable. One mitigating factor is that the Chiefs quarterback is only 25 years old. Barring injury, he has many seasons left in front of him. And he’s surrounded by elite talent, in an offensive system that suits his game. All that leaves him a reasonable shot at challenging Brady’s record down the line. That is, as much as anybody has a reasonable shot.
“This is a great quarterback matchup,” says NFL Today analyst Boomer Esiason. “One end of the spectrum where you have the older, more established guy that has left a legacy that is going to be very difficult to eclipse. Who is more of a pocket passer and basically puts on a clinic each and every week of how to play professional quarterback. On the other side, you have the greatest young quarterback that we’ve ever seen come through this league. We’ve never seen anybody do anything quite like them. He’s played 53 total games, and he’s never had a bad game. As a matter of fact, his rating gets better in the playoffs as opposed to the regular season.”
“I don’t necessarily know that we could have asked for a better situation at the quarterback position,” Esiason continues.
The Mahomes-Brady matchup works out well for fans, but less so for opposing defensive coordinators. Mahomes averaged 316 yards per outing in his 15 regular season games, piling up 38 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. His quarterback rating was 108.2. And behind a patchwork offensive line, he was only sacked 22 times.
Tampa’s defense already faced him once back in late November. And Mahomes picked them apart, completing 37 passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns. According to NFL Today analyst Bill Cowher, “if you watch that first game that was in week 12, if you go back and dissect it, Tampa Bay got in trouble when they tried to play a lot of man-to-man, and try and put pressure.”
Blitzing and pressure, of course, is how this revived Bucs defense found success this season. They racked up 48 sacks, among the best totals in the league. But Mahomes, with his legs and release, may be the best NFL QB at handling the blitz. Maybe there’s a better way to contain the Chiefs.
“They went to zone a lot of the time in those last three quarters and kind of slowed down the Kansas City Chiefs,” says Cowher. “Maybe give some thought about doing a three-man rush. Put Shaq there, Jason Pierre-Paul outside, Ndamukong Suh inside. And now put another guy into coverage, and maybe spy that guy with a Devin White but also take away some of the intermediate routes that they’re doing. Again, you sit back and look at what you did. What worked? Zone worked more than man against the Kansas City Chiefs, and that’s going to hold true most of time. You have to play some at times. Down and distance will have a lot to do with it. Breaking down that game, looking at that game, where are they now, as opposed to where are they then? It’s a cat-and-mouse game. It’s move, counter-move. That’s what’s great about the National Football League and what’s great about the game of football. It’s all about making adjustments and, as a game unfolds, you kind of see what the plan is of the other team.”
The Chiefs defense may have to make a few defensive adjustments of their own. Brady completed 27 passes for 345 yards their one matchup. He also had two second-half interceptions. He averaged 290 yards per game in his 16 regular season games, throwing 40 TD passes and 12 interceptions. His rating was 102.2, and he was sacked just 21 times.
Brady, like Mahomes, wants to get rid of the ball. The difference is that Brady isn’t a threat to run. He looks avoid the rush in the pocket and unload the ball quickly. So teams have long since tried to pressure him up the middle and collapse the pocket.
The problem is that the Bucs’ wideouts can beat the man coverage often necessitated by the blitz. And Brady, as much as any quarterback, can see that blitz coming and knows where to go with the ball. While the Chiefs like to blitz, with 32 sacks on the season, they don’t have as much success as one might hope. The Bucs offensive line is also playing well, having allowed just two sacks the last two weeks.
Stopping Brady, like stopping Mahomes, isn’t likely. It’s more a matter of slowing him down enough, and coming up with a key play when it matters. The defense that does that will give its team a shot at winning Super Bowl LV.